Creatine Facts and Myths (2022)

Even if you’re not a weight lifter, you’ve undoubtedly heard of creatine, one of the most researched supplements in history.

It’s a combination of amino acids produced by the liver, kidney, and pancreas. Creatine is not a steroid—it’s naturally found in muscle and in red meat and fish, though at far lower levels than in the powder form sold on bodybuilding websites and at your local GNC.

How does it work? Creatine reduces fatigue by transporting extra energy into your cells, says Ari Levy, M.D., who works with patients at the Program for Personalized Health and Prevention at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, is the compound your body uses for energy. For a muscle to contract, it breaks off a phosphate molecule from ATP. As a result, ATP becomes ADP (adenosine diphosphate). The problem: You can’t use ADP for energy, and your body only has so much stored ATP. The fix: ADP takes a phosphate molecule from your body’s stores of creatine phosphate, forming more ATP.

If you have more creatine phosphate—which you do if you take a creatine supplement—you can work out longer and do sets of, say, eight reps instead of six. Over weeks and months, that added workload allows you to add lean muscle mass, lift heavier weights, and become stronger. (Want the perfect workout to build muscle and torch fat? Check out the new 8-DVD metabolic training series from Men’s Health Speed Shred.)

But should you worry about side effects? Does creatine cause you to lose weight when you stop it, or does it hurt your kidneys, like you may have heard? Here are the key myths and facts you need to know.

Creatine is similar to anabolic steroids. Myth. Steroids mimic testosterone and are banned in the Olympics and in professional sports. By contrast, the International Olympic Committee, professional sports leagues, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association do not prohibit creatine. (The NCAA won’t let colleges give it to athletes, though.)

(Video) Creatine: Facts and Myths | Overtime Athletes

Creatine can help you build muscle mass without hitting the gym. Myth. It shows some improvement in kids with muscular dystrophy, even if they’re not exercising, says Mark Tarnopolsky, M.D., Ph.D., professor of pediatrics and medicine and director of the neuromuscular and neurometabolic clinic at McMaster University Medical Center in Ontario. “[But] the best effect in healthy humans is seen when creatine is combined with resistance exercise training.”

Creatine causes gastrointestinal upset. True—but it’s rare. Tarnopolsky says his studies show 5 to 7 percent of people experience either stomach aches, diarrhea, or both. (More seriously, we spoke to expert Lou Schuler about whether Creatine Will Make You Crazy.)

Creatine will help you run a faster 5K. Myth. Creatine helps athletes with more fast-twitch muscle fibers (used to swing a baseball bat) more than athletes with more slow-twitch ones (used by marathon runners). “If you’re an endurance athlete, if you’re not doing something that involves the fast-twitch muscle fibers, you don’t need to be on creatine,” says orthopedic surgeon Tony Wanich, M.D., a sports medicine specialist at Montefiore Medical Center in New York.

If you do want to run a faster 5K, use this plan from Rachel Cosgrove, C.S.C.S. You’ll run only three days a week, but finish faster than ever before!

Creatine causes weight gain. Fact. (But that’s kind of the point.) It pulls H2O into your muscles, which causes water-weight gain and makes muscles look bigger initially. (You don’t actually gain muscle fibers until you work out.) “Creatine is a molecule that has a very strong attraction for water,” says Gordon Purser, Ph.D., a professor of chemistry at the University of Tulsa who studies creatine and has used it himself for the past decade. No two people will have the same results. “Weight gain of about 0.8 to 2.9 percent of body weight in the first few days of creatine supplementation occurs in about two-thirds of users,” says Christine Rosenbloom, Ph.D., R.D., sports dietitian for Georgia State University Athletics and editor in chief of Sports Nutrition: A Practice Manual for Professionals. What can you expect after the water weight gain? In a study of 20-year-olds taking creatine and doing weight training, Tarnopolsky found some gained two pounds of muscle but one even gained 17 pounds of it—with the same amount of supplement and the same training.

Creatine doesn’t work well for everyone. True. “One major factor with creatine is that some people have high levels in muscle naturally,” says Tarnopolsky. Meat and fish eaters are less likely to respond than vegans, who have low levels in their diet. Your muscle makeup matters, too. Most people have about 50 percent fast-twitch fibers (responsible for sprinting and jumping) and 50 percent slow-twitch fibers (responsible for endurance exercise), says Peter Adhihetty, Ph.D., assistant professor in the department of applied physiology and kinesiology at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Those guys should respond well. But people with 70 percent fast-twitch and 30 percent slow-twitch muscle will see even more results, he says.

(Video) 8 Questions About Creatine Answered | Jose Antonio, Ph.D.

Creatine makes you look softer. True. There’s a reason bodybuilders stop using creatine a month or so before a competition. “As the creatine hydrates itself, it causes water to flow into the muscle. That extra water may increase the volume of the muscles, but it also makes them look mushy rather than defined,” says Purser. Your move: Take it during the fall, winter, and spring to build muscle. Go off it during the summer to show off your beach abs.

Do you have pounds of belly fat you want to lose? Check out The Lean Belly Prescription—the no-diet, no workout plan that’s better than running 5 miles a day!

Creatine users will lose muscle when they stop taking the supplement. Myth. Your muscles may look smaller because creatine adds water volume. “The real question is, ‘Will you maintain your strength and muscle mass, dry muscle mass, when you discontinue the use of creatine?' ” says Purser. “The answer to that is absolutely yes. Once you have built the muscle, as long as you continue to lift, you will maintain it.”

You shouldn’t take too much creatine. Fact. “It is illogical to take more than 20 grams a day for a week max or seven grams a day for months,” says Tarnopolsky. “[There is] no evidence that this would do anything more in terms of loading the muscle, so why on earth would someone waste money and time and effort for unknown risks and zippo added benefit. Anything in the world—sugar, coffee, fat, protein, salt—taken in excess can lead to health issues.”

Have more questions? Check out Çreatine: What It Is, What It Does and Its Side Effects

So, you want to take creatine? Here’s how.
You’ll see a bunch of different forms of creatine on your supplement store’s shelves. The one you want is creatine monohydrate. “Creatine monohydrate is the exact compound that more than 95 percent of the studies used, so why take a chance on another compound from a safety and effectiveness perspective?” Tarnopolsky says.

(Video) What Does Creatine Do? | Nutritionist Explains... | Myprotein

The first week you go on creatine, some experts recommend a “loading phase” of 20 grams a day for five to seven days. Afterward, go to 5 grams per day.

The fine print: See your doctor first if you have high blood pressure or diabetes, if you regularly take any prescription meds or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen (which can tax the kidneys), if you’re over age 40 (since kidney function slowly declines after age 30), or if you have a history of kidney or liver disease.

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(Video) Creatine Facts and Myths

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FAQs

How effective is creatine actually? ›

Research suggests that creatine is one of the most effective supplements available for high intensity exercise ( 2 ). In fact, several hundred studies have investigated its effects. Over 70% show a positive effect, while the other 30% show a small or insignificant effect.

Is there scientific evidence that creatine works? ›

Evidence. Research on creatine use for specific activities and conditions shows: Strength, muscle size and performance. Oral creatine use might allow an athlete to do more work during reps or sprints, leading to greater gains in strength, muscle mass and performance.

Is creatine worth the risk? ›

Numerous studies have reported beneficial effects including increased muscle mass during training and neural protection. However, negative reports have also been made of possible side effects, such as muscle cramping during exercise, and potential impurities.

Should I take creatine yes or no? ›

Yes, you can get stronger without taking a creatine supplement. However, since creatine has proven to have significant performance benefits, you should aim to consume 1-2g of creatine per day through natural food sources, such as eating red meats and fish, if you don't take a creatine supplement.

Does creatine boost testosterone? ›

No, Creatine does not increase testosterone levels. It's a common misconception though, and there are quite a few reasons as to why people may think that. Creatine has a lot of benefits that look similar to increased testosterone, increased energy, increased muscle growth, strength etc.

Does creatine actually help build muscle? ›

Creatine is thought to improve strength, increase lean muscle mass, and help the muscles recover more quickly during exercise. This muscular boost may help athletes achieve bursts of speed and energy, especially during short bouts of high-intensity activities such as weight lifting or sprinting.

What does science say about creatine? ›

Some small studies have shown creatine increases lean muscle mass, strength and speed. However, studies have suggested a limit to creatine benefits in highly trained athletes. From existing studies, it appears that so-called supplement "loading" produces the best results.

Does creatine affect eyesight? ›

Currently, no visual side effects from the use of creatine supplementation have been reported; however, there is conflicting evidence of an adverse effect on renal function.

Can creatine cause hair loss? ›

In summary, the current body of evidence does not indicate that creatine supplementation increases total testosterone, free testosterone, DHT or causes hair loss/baldness.

Does creatine cause blood clot? ›

Conclusions and Importance. We conclude that the CRVO occurred in the context of creatine use and water restriction, leading to increased risk for thrombosis.

Can creatine affect your mood? ›

Taken together, there remains the possibility that creatine can increase risk of mania or depression in susceptible individuals. It is also possible that long-term high dosing of creatine alters creatine transporter function or creatine kinase activity in a manner that adversely affects emotional regulation.

Will creatine make me bigger? ›

Creatine makes your muscles look bigger, while actually making them bigger as well. First, creatine causes your muscle cells to store more water which causes your muscles to appear fuller and larger. You may notice the size increase a few days or weeks after starting creatine supplementation.

Can I build muscle without creatine? ›

Yes, you can build muscle without creatine. Creatine is a supplement that will provide you with an extra 5 percent of muscle growth potential. So, you can still get 95 percent muscle-building benefit by training and eating for muscle gains without creatine supplementation.

Is it OK to take creatine everyday? ›

When taken by mouth: Creatine is likely safe for most people. Doses up to 25 grams daily for up to 14 days have been safely used. Lower doses up to 4-5 grams daily for up to 18 months have also been safely used.

Does creatine make your face puffy? ›

Muscles collect water from the rest of the body when you consume a creatine supplement. As your muscles swell you may notice bloating or puffiness in various areas of your face caused by this water uptake. You may also gain water weight that appears to be larger muscles.

What are the long term effects of creatine? ›

Results indicate that long-term creatine supplementation (up to 21-months) does not appear to adversely effect markers of health status in athletes undergoing intense training in comparison to athletes who do not take creatine.

Does creatine build muscle or just add water? ›

It's often said that the weight you gain on Creatine is simply water weight, but that's not exactly true. Yes, you will gain water weight because Creatine causes water retention. However, Creatine also gives you more energy, which promotes muscle growth and weight loss.

Does creatine affect sperm? ›

A recent trial reported that low semen creatine levels are associated with reduced sperm motility, while high creatine kinase activity is associated with poor sperm quality [16].

Does creatine affect liver? ›

Creatine supplements have not been shown to adversely affect the liver during short-term, low-dose usage. Additionally, a study in the "International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism" found that creatine supplements did not affect the livers of elite athletes even after long-term usage.

What happens if I take creatine and don't workout? ›

Some people think that if they take creatine and don't work out, they'll put on fat—but Roussell says it isn't true. "Creatine contains no calories, and has no impact on your fat metabolism," he says. "So taking creatine and not working out is just going to lead to nothing."

What's better creatine or protein? ›

If you are striving for a strength goal, such as lifting a certain amount of weight, then creatine will give you the energy boost you are looking for. For long-term results, protein will be helpful in rebuilding muscle that will continue to increase your strength over time.

How quickly does creatine work? ›

It will take seven to 28 days to see energy effects depending on how much creatine you already have in your body. It may be dangerous to take creatine supplements when you are actually dehydrated or trying to lose weight.

Does creatine help you last longer in bed? ›

Creatine can make you last longer in bed

In general, creatine supplementation can have an indirect positive impact on your physical performance, therefore, it can help to last longer in bed. When creatine is used in conjunction with resistance training, it does elevate androgen levels and drives up the libido.

Does creatine count as Natty? ›

Kali Muscle on Twitter: "You are not natural/natty if you take Protein Powders, Creatine, Pre-Workout, SARMS, ROIDS, etc." / Twitter.

What percent of people take creatine? ›

What Percentage of People Use Creatine? Research shows that about 28% of Division I athletes use creatine, though 68% have heard of the supplement. Males athletes are also much more likely to supplement with creatine than females (48% vs.

Is creatine approved by the FDA? ›

Creatine products are readily available as a dietary supplement and are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

When should I stop taking creatine? ›

This means in total you have been supplementing with creatine for a total of 8 weeks. Then it is important to stop taking creatine. You should pause your creatine supplementation for anywhere between 7 to 14 days (preferably 2 weeks), before beginning again to take creatine.

How much water should I drink with creatine? ›

Creatine and Water

Therefore, proper hydration is essential. As previously mentioned, 6-8 cups of water are the average drinking amount when out of training. However, when supplementing with creatine, you should drink an additional 8-10 cups of water daily, or slightly more, depending on your exercise regimen.

How long should you take creatine? ›

The most well-studied form is creatine monohydrate. The ISSN suggests that 5 grams of creatine monohydrate four times daily for 5–7 days is the most effective way to increase your muscle creatine levels, though amounts may vary depending on your weight ( 2 ).

Will 5g of creatine cause hair loss? ›

Yet creatine remains a perpetual target for rumors and misconceptions. Among the most powerful: That creatine causes hair loss. Research remains ongoing, but “the current body of evidence does not indicate that creatine causes hair loss or baldness,” says Dr. Antonio.

Does creatine raise heart rate? ›

Kilian et al. [32] used creatine supplementation in in vitro isolated hearts. They found that such a supplementation decreased heart rate, increased left ventricular systolic pressure, increased coronary flow, increased ATP content and decreased isocitrate dehydrogenase, a marker of cell death.

Does creatine help blood pressure? ›

As a naturally-occurring compound, creatine's job is to provide vital energy in the cells of the human body. Its primary focus is muscle. However, one study among young men found that creatine also seemed to work as a natural blood pressure reducer.

Is creatine good for anxiety? ›

Creatine supplementation seems to be beneficial not only for healthy people but also for individuals with psychiatric disorders. For instance, decreased creatine levels have been reported in the brains of patients with anxiety disorders.

Is creatine good for depression? ›

Early evidence of creatine's potential efficacy as an antidepressant emerged during a pilot randomized clinical trial for Parkinson disease (PD). Compared with placebo, creatine was associated with a significant reduction in depressive symptoms in PD patients following a 2-year treatment course16.

Can creatine make your brain foggy? ›

Creatine and Dehydration

This may cause you to feel faint or lightheaded and can increase your risk of developing acute anxiety, nervousness and confusion.

Will creatine make me look leaner? ›

SOLUTION: Although research does show that creatine can increase water retention under the skin, there is no research that supports the notion that creatine will prevent you from dropping bodyfat. In fact, research suggests creatine will not only help you gain lean muscle mass, but also may help you to lose fat.

How much weight will creatine add? ›

An adult taking creatine may gain about 1.5 to 3.5 pounds initially, then gain up to 6 pounds of muscle mass if taken longer term. Fortunately, the weight gain associated with creatine is typically due to an increase in muscle mass rather than body fat, as well as water retention in the muscles.

Will I get smaller if I stop taking creatine? ›

When you stop supplementing with creatine, your muscles will not hold as much water, making you lose weight, sometimes ​up to 5 to 7 pounds​, in the first several days to a week after stopping creatine.

How much creatine is in eggs? ›

And it has been confirmed that creatine can be transported from the hen to the egg through the hen's diet and the hen's own synthesis of creatine. However, the levels that are transmitted are very low5,3. Murakami found approximately 20 mg/kg DM in the eggs of meat type quail breeder hens.

What foods naturally have creatine? ›

As the name suggests, creatine is naturally found in flesh and is acquired through a diet rich in fish, meat and other animal products such as dairy. As creatine is important for all cells to function, our body also makes its own.

Can I skip creatine on rest days? ›

One common question among athletes: Should I take creatine on off days? The short answer is yes, but you can also skip some days. "Research suggests that creatine stores can be maintained at high levels even if creatine is not taken every single day," says Paul Falcone, senior scientist for LADDER.

What happens if you stop creatine for a week? ›

Stopping creatine supplements will deplete creatine stores in the body, particularly in muscle and the brain. This withdrawal can cause lethargy and fatigue lasting for 1 or 2 weeks.

Is 10g of creatine a day too much? ›

Creatine is a safe, well-studied supplement. Studies in a variety of people have shown no detrimental health effects of taking creatine supplements in doses up to 4–20 grams per day for 10 months to 5 years ( 19 , 20 , 21 ).

Does creatine actually help build muscle? ›

Creatine is thought to improve strength, increase lean muscle mass, and help the muscles recover more quickly during exercise. This muscular boost may help athletes achieve bursts of speed and energy, especially during short bouts of high-intensity activities such as weight lifting or sprinting.

How much of a difference does creatine actually make? ›

Several studies have shown that creatine supplementation results in strength gains. In a meta-analysis of 22 studies on creatine, researchers found that individuals who use it show an 8% increase in strength compared to those who don't. Creatine can help your muscles grow bigger.

How quickly does creatine work? ›

Creatine results kick in after roughly 2-4 weeks, depending on dose and personal response. They also begin to wear off, as you establish a new normal within the body, after around six weeks. The difference here is that you're maintaining levels at a healthy, optimal state, rather than addressing a deficiency.

Does creatine count as Natty? ›

Kali Muscle on Twitter: "You are not natural/natty if you take Protein Powders, Creatine, Pre-Workout, SARMS, ROIDS, etc." / Twitter.

Can creatine affect sperm? ›

A recent trial reported that low semen creatine levels are associated with reduced sperm motility, while high creatine kinase activity is associated with poor sperm quality [16].

What's better creatine or protein? ›

If you are striving for a strength goal, such as lifting a certain amount of weight, then creatine will give you the energy boost you are looking for. For long-term results, protein will be helpful in rebuilding muscle that will continue to increase your strength over time.

Does creatine help you last longer in bed? ›

Creatine can make you last longer in bed

In general, creatine supplementation can have an indirect positive impact on your physical performance, therefore, it can help to last longer in bed. When creatine is used in conjunction with resistance training, it does elevate androgen levels and drives up the libido.

What happens if I stop taking creatine for a week? ›

Stopping creatine supplements will deplete creatine stores in the body, particularly in muscle and the brain. This withdrawal can cause lethargy and fatigue lasting for 1 or 2 weeks.

Will creatine make me look leaner? ›

SOLUTION: Although research does show that creatine can increase water retention under the skin, there is no research that supports the notion that creatine will prevent you from dropping bodyfat. In fact, research suggests creatine will not only help you gain lean muscle mass, but also may help you to lose fat.

How much water should I drink with creatine? ›

Creatine and Water

Therefore, proper hydration is essential. As previously mentioned, 6-8 cups of water are the average drinking amount when out of training. However, when supplementing with creatine, you should drink an additional 8-10 cups of water daily, or slightly more, depending on your exercise regimen.

How long does creatine last in the body? ›

The elimination half-life of creatine is approximately 3 hours, indicating that 50% of a dose will be cleared from your plasma at roughly 3 hours post-ingestion. With this information we can calculate that 100% of exogenously administered creatine should be out of your system within 16.5 hours of your final dose.

How long does creatine last? ›

Most labels would indicate that creatine supplements can last about two to three years, depending on the form of the creatine in the supplement. However, powdered creatine can still remain viable and safe to consume even after one to two years beyond the expiration date, in the right conditions.

What foods is creatine found in? ›

Food sources include red meat and fish. One pound of raw beef or salmon provides 1 to 2 grams (g) of creatine. Creatine can supply energy to parts of the body where it is needed. Athletes use supplements to increase energy production, improve athletic performance, and to allow them to train harder.

Is creatine better before or after a workout? ›

Research suggests that taking creatine after a workout is most optimal. It's better for increasing lean muscle mass when combined with a resistance training program. It may even have more benefits when taking it with a high-carb or high-carb/high-protein post-workout meal.

Should I take 3 or 5 grams of creatine? ›

Taking too much creatine at one time can result in stomach discomfort and bloating, and it's a waste of money. After your muscles are fully saturated with creatine, it's recommended to take 3–5 grams (14 mg/pound or 30 mg/kg) daily to maintain optimal muscle stores.

Can you take creatine in the army? ›

Key messages. Creatine has proven to be a popular, legal and safe supplement among military personnel, even though there is little data regarding its long-term effects. The limited experimental research in the military indicates a non-significant performance-enhancing effect during short-term creatine supplementation.

Videos

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